Over lunch each week, just down the block from each other’s organization, RISE AmeriCorps Member David Clower and First Lutheran Church Food Services Coordinator Ruth Ehrhardt bonded over their shared passion of community service. Together, they strategized Clower’s plans for the future and ways to connect resources for the Afghan refugees Clower primarily serves.
“I got super lucky because Ruth has an incredible wealth of experience that she has been able to share with me,” Clower said.
Through the unique opportunity of the RISE AmeriCorps mentorship program, members are gaining professional and personal connections to lead them successfully into their next season of life. RISE AmeriCorps members are carefully matched with mentors according to their ambitions. The pairs then meet for one hour per week for at least six months, talking through steps to meet their goals.
After the Taliban-takeover in Afghanistan forced thousands of families to flee from their homes and seek resettlement, RISE AmeriCorps Members and staff at Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) are helping Afghan refugees adjust to their new lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
In affiliation with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), CMC is responsible for resettlement services to support refugees during their first months in the country. From coordinating housing to medical assistance to cultural orientation, CMC is the official guide in Cedar Rapids for refugees abruptly dropped into a foreign land and culture.
RISE AmeriCorps Member David Clower said the number of Afghan refugees arriving in Cedar Rapids has poured in like a tidal wave, in comparison to the usual trickle of refugees resettled from mostly Central Africa. During just a two week period in November 2021, over 80 Afghan refugees arrived in Cedar Rapids. In all, Clower said 250 Afghan refugees have been welcomed by CMC from mid-November to mid-February. In contrast, CMC often resettles only about 150 clients over a year.
Story by Julia DiGiacomo
Despite hurdles this year, the Catherine McAuley Center’s online classes are taking off again with the help of RISE members. CMC’s tutoring program, which primarily supports immigrants and refugees, hosted its largest online orientation for new volunteers in October.
Volunteer & Outreach Manager Katie Splean says that the transition online was slow at first as the program gauged students’ interest and comfort level online. Computer skills were an initial barrier in signing up members of the immigrant & refugee community.
However, Splean says classes are picking up again recently after moving online this summer. In addition to training 20 new tutors at the October orientation, there are currently about 150 students working with about 90 volunteers.
Berryhill says her favorite part of her service is interacting with the students and tutors over Zoom and watching them laugh and have fun with each other.
“CMC's education program relies on strong, positive relationships between students, staff, and volunteers, so knowing that students and tutors are able to forge these connections even through an online format makes me very happy,” Berryhill says.
After a year of dealing with a pandemic and the derecho, Splean says tutoring can also help redirect students to other CMC resources when they are in need. By building a strong relationship and learning about students’ lives, tutors can help them find assistance.
She says students report feeling as though their tutor genuinely cares as a result.
“It just means a lot that when [clients] walk into our four walls or when they are connecting with somebody who's affiliated with us virtually, they're getting that sense of welcome like they belong here,” Splean says.